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"I'll always remember the first time he showed me around that place," says DJ Irie, who lives nearby and counted Shapiro as a friend. "He was just a really cool guy. He seemed like someone who was a hard worker and who was really successful."
The house became a centerpiece of Shapiro's business empire, which had started back in 1998, court records show. He had started a firm called Nevco Trading.
The business was not successful. In 1999, Nevco was sued for breaking contracts in New Jersey.
So Shapiro focused his energy on another concern, Capitol Investments USA, which was located in an office building near 41st Street and Pine Tree Drive. The firm bought wholesale groceries where they were cheap and shipped them to more expensive markets. Shapiro pocketed the difference after they were sold.
It's unclear how successful the business was, but starting around 2003, Nevin hooked up with powerful men who would help change his fortunes. They either invested millions of their own cash or brought in rich friends. One was Sherwin Jarol, a real estate maven in Chicago; then there was Craig Currie, an investor in New Jersey; and most crucial was Sydney "Jack" Williams, a real estate baron with offices in Naples, Florida; and Indianapolis.
Williams, a Sigma Chi fraternity member and graduate of Ball State University, had built his real estate company into a $1 billion-plus behemoth with clients from all over the country. Starting in 2003, working from a wood-paneled, old-money office in Naples, he used those connections to funnel millions to Nevin Shapiro.
There's still a heated debate among Shapiro's victims about what Williams, an otherwise savvy investor, saw in the South Beach businessman. But Shapiro had a gift for pitching his plans with enthusiasm and zeal. And the arrangement was a great deal for Williams, who earned a 10 percent commission on each new investor he attracted, according to court filings.
Williams' old frat brothers like Jack Hulse became prime targets. "I'd invested in real estate deals with [Williams] in the past that all worked out really well," says Hulse, who lives in Sarasota. "I didn't know Nevin at all, but I trusted Jack."
Others in Naples' tony retirement world knew Williams from the golf course (he belonged to three country clubs around town).
Robert E. Nolan is a retired management exec who lives in Grey Oaks, a gated neighborhood of sprawling mansions and golf greens just outside Naples. "Pretty much everyone in this development is a millionaire, and Jack had more than a dozen of us as investors," he says.
Cash poured in to Capitol Investments. Williams alone brought in at least 50 investors, according to court records. In 2005, Shapiro bought the mansion at 5380 N. Bay Road (a deal that set him back $50,000 every month). That same year, he pledged $150,000 to his beloved Miami Hurricanes in exchange for putting his name on a student lounge.
He had an ulterior motive for that donation. Back in 2001, he'd founded a sports management company called Axcess Sports with Michael Huyghue, a Jacksonville businessman who's now commissioner of the upstart United Football League. Their biggest client was New England Patriots tackle and former Hurricane Vince Wilfork, and Shapiro thought UM athletes would build the business.
As Shapiro's wealth grew, so did his standing in clubby, flashy SoBe, where he dropped huge money at Mansion nightclub and Prime One Twelve, his top dinner spot. He even developed a friendship with Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega. Public documents describe the two eating breakfast together at David's Cafe — Shapiro's favorite meeting place. (Noriega declined to comment on his relationship with the Ponzi schemer.) While the two dined, Shapiro received a threatening phone call and used Noriega as his witness on a police report. No charges were ever filed.
Shapiro later met Holder, the U.S. attorney general, through Noriega. Miami Beach officers also routinely guarded Shapiro's house during parties, sources say.
Then there were his other passions: gambling and women. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show he had "millions in gambling debts." Shapiro would lay $25,000 or more on several NFL and college football games every weekend, says an associate who asked not to be named.
Once, after a big win, a Federal Express box overflowing with cash arrived at the Bay Road mansion. Shapiro dramatically poured the bills all over his kitchen counter while laughing hysterically, the source says. When he watched games in public — often at Lucky Strike Lanes off Lincoln Road — he'd scream at strangers rooting for the "wrong" team, especially if he was losing.
He also juggled several girlfriends, in addition to his longtime partner, a woman named Miriam "Mimi" Menoscal. Records show that he let one female acquaintance charge $116,000 to his credit cards.
It was an exhausting, exhilarating life.
Between 2005 and 2009, he spent $400,000 on floor seats at Heat games. He rented his yacht to Shaq, D-Wade, and Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett. Lawyers claim he gave Shaq diamond-encrusted handcuffs for his birthday. (The Big Aristotle later told Cleveland reporters that Shapiro had only helped him arrange purchase of the gems.)
Despite the over-the-top spending, "he didn't come across as braggadocious or like he was showing off," says DJ Irie.